Shelley Denny

The environment I grew up in really shaped my interest in marine biology. I was raised by my grandmother and lived with her until I went to university. We lived just five minutes from Bras d’Or Lake, ten minutes from the ocean, and a brook ran through our backyard. Not only did all those different types of water surround me, but my grandmother also encouraged my intense curiosity about aquatic life and about nature in general. In other words, I have been interested in marine biology for most of my life—beginning at an age when I didn’t even know that my interest had a name. While high school courses didn’t add much to this interest (I thought my classes were a bit “ho-hum”), I found the university to be really fascinating.

I went to Acadia University where my major was Biology with a concentration in Marine Biology, and my minors were Chemistry and Psychology. I loved university for scientific research and enjoyed the mental challenges that it brought. Eventually, my university career presented other challenges as well; in my third year, I had a child. As a single parent, I struggled, but still found ways to put my daughter first and do well in school. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science and am now enrolled at St. Francis Xavier University where I’m working towards my Master’s in Science, with a concentration in fisheries ecology.

I plan to complete my Ph.D. after that. My first job was with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in 1991. In 1992, I landed—without training—in a management position at the Eskasoni Fish & Wildlife Commission. Luckily, I learn quickly, and through experience I’ve come to understand a great deal about the business world. In addition to management, this job has me continuing with various studies on many of the species in the Bras d’Or Lake region. In addition to my work with Eskasoni, I’m also a member of a technical committee that advises the Chiefs of Cape Breton through the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources.

I am a firm believer that we are responsible for our resources. Whether our people fish for ceremonial or commercial reasons, we need to be responsible for sustaining fish stocks. Education provides us with the opportunity to understand and satisfy that responsibility. It also unlocks doors to the many opportunities for Aboriginal youth in the field of marine biology.